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John Cunningham to Chair Pediatrics at the University of Chicago

August 6, 2015

John Cunningham, MD John M. Cunningham, MD

After a national search, John M. Cunningham, MD, the Donald N. Pritzker Professor and interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, has been formally appointed chairman of the department, effective Aug. 1, 2015.

An authority on the study and treatment of childhood cancers, as well as the biology and therapy of hemoglobinopathies -- blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia -- Cunningham is known for his work on understanding the molecular mechanism underpinning red blood cell production. He has developed stem cell transplant techniques for the 70 percent of children who do not have a sibling match. These approaches have made transplant an option for any child requiring this therapy.

Kenneth Polonsky, MD, dean of the Biological Sciences Division and executive vice president for medical affairs, lauded Cunningham in his role as section chief of pediatric hematology/oncology since arriving at the university in late 2006.

"He rapidly built up our pediatric cancer program by recruiting leading faculty, establishing new programs, expanding our clinical trial and bone marrow transplantation programs, strengthening basic research efforts and working with his colleagues to build relationships with community hospitals and referring physicians," Polonsky said. "He has continued that success in his larger role, since 2014, as interim chair of pediatrics."

Cunningham, a native of Ireland, earned his medical degree from University College Dublin, followed by a master of science degree in biochemistry from King's College London. He completed his residency at St. Laurence's Hospital and a hematology fellowship at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, both in Dublin.

In addition, he was a Wellcome research fellow in clinical science at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, where he also completed his clinical training in bone marrow transplantation.

In 1991, Cunningham came to the United States as a visiting associate in clinical hematology at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. In 1993, he joined the Divisions of Experimental Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, where he was appointed director of the cell and gene therapy laboratories, as well as chair of the institutional review board.

In December 2006, Cunningham moved to the University of Chicago to become professor of pediatrics and section chief of hematology/oncology and stem-cell transplantation. He was named vice chairman for research in pediatrics in 2008. He was named interim department chair in 2014.

"It is a great honor and a vast responsibility to take on this new role," Cunningham said. "Pediatrics at the University of Chicago has tremendous strengths, including numerous nationally renowned members of the faculty, strong clinical and research programs, excellent nursing, and a nearly new and expanding facility: the Comer Children's Hospital."

"I am flattered to have been selected," he said, "and determined to enhance our commitment to compassionate, individualized care for all children, and to continue at the forefront of innovation and discovery of the most effective therapies for childhood diseases."

Cunningham has published almost 80 scientific articles in leading journals, as well as multiple book chapters and invited reviews. He served on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and is a reviewer for Blood; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Cancer Research; and Genomics. He is a member of the American Cancer Society's Council for Extramural Grants, and pediatric series editor for The Oncologist.

Cunningham has been invited to lecture at nearly 50 universities and scientific meetings around the world and has been included on multiple local and national "top-doctor" lists.

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